Students! Time Management and Gap Years

(Sorry about the late post. I’ve been pretty busy for the past few days.)

I went up to Northland on Thursday, and three or four students came to ask me questions throughout the day. Two of them asked their teacher to let them out of class, so that they could talk to me for an hour. These two were not terribly sure if they wanted to go to college. One of them was pretty set on a technical college because he enjoyed working on physical projects and there are several opportunities in this area for technical work. The other student was a senior and had not applied to college. He told me that he did not know if college would be worth the effort since he did not know what he wanted to do. He knew he could get some jobs in the area without going to college, but he did not know if that was what he wanted. I told him about gap years and how there were community service programs and scholarship/grant opportunities for other students like him. I told both of them that they did not have to go to college straight out of high school and that it was okay to not know exactly what they wanted to do.

They shared a lot with me. I learned a lot about where the animosity towards the Native American students came from for them. They felt like the Native American students were getting more opportunities than them because there was an office of “Indian Education” in the school and they felt like the school valued the Native American students more than them. It was hard to hear them talk about this or respond to their feelings without coming across as judging them, but I think the students are starting to trust me. We switched the conversation to what sort of opportunities they have, and I hope they’re beginning to see how everyone has different options and how we often only see the good things other people have and not everything they’ve been through. I’m not sure they really got it, but I gave them some ideas about reasons to go to college and how to start thinking about their goals and priorities. They said they would come back to talk more.


The time management workshop went well too. The student from the other day came in and I got to see how he spent his day via pie charts and hourly schedules. He was really surprised about how little time is spent in class each day at college. We talked about testing too since he had just taken an MCA (I think that’s what he said) and how important the ACT can be for getting scholarships and grants from colleges. I gave him a list of colleges with pretty good environmental studies and biology programs, and also talked to him about coming in and getting some test-prep time since the school doesn’t offer much as far as study skills for juniors and seniors. He was rather excited but also pretty stressed about the tests. I’m going to send them all emails later today with more info about gap years, colleges they might like, and test prep. I’m pretty excited.

Mac’s 2010 Civic Forum: Reflections for Dakota Birthright

Hi everyone,

My name is Terence Steinberg and I’m a recipient of the 2010 Live It! Fund. For the next few months I’m going to be posting about my project, Dakota Birthright. I’ll share my reflections on various events related to civic engagement and leadership, and take you along on a canoe trip that traces the reverse route of the Dakota exile from Minnesota.

Here are my thoughts after attending the 2010 Maclester Civic Forum

The Civic Forum utterly blew me way.  Not only was the quality of intellectual debate and presentation stimulating and factually robust, but more importantly the passion and consciousness shared by the speakers and audience resonated throughout the night.  Too often academia dwells in a contextual vacuum.  For example, in my discipline, Economics, we’re instructed (indoctrinated, may I say?) to remain invariably positive about our subject.  But these are normative issues!  Economics is a social science – it’s not biology!  Our educations are nothing without implementing them in our communities.  As the evening developed, the abundance of opinions at the Civic Forum strengthened the purpose of our gathering.  I, for one, felt a renewed and compelling urge to do something for my community, whether in Saint Paul or the greater United States.

Among the range of topics related to “Civic Leadership in the Age of Obama,” the Forum’s title this year, was inertial racism, a broad description of what some call institutionalized racism.  We focused largely on how this relates to African Americans, but it is the central narrative of so many other groups as well.  Crow Creek Reservation in South Dakota, a Dakota and Nakota community of a few thousand, composes the poorest county in the United States.  A mean annual income of less than $5,300 per capita, unemployment of 58%, and a high school graduation rate of one in three: these statistics only begin to tell the story.  Babies die at a rate nearly twice that of a decade ago, and suicide rates are several times those of the rest of our nation.  A similar reality exists for the Dakota of Santee Reservation, Nebraska.  Can this trajectory be described as anything but inertial racism?  Does the meritocracy of the United States justify condemning these communities to compounding suffering?

In the words of Sekou Sundiata, as quoted by Callie Thuma, senior Macalester student and presenter at the Forum:

Why don’t we get our hopes up too high?
What don’t we get our hopes up too high?

Last week in my EXCO class, The Indigenous Imperative, the instructor asked if I would feel comfortable sharing the parable of the two-headed snake with Dakota Birthright participants.  In the story, a group of Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) canoeing in search of food during a famine encounter a pathetic, sickly snake with heads of gold and silver resting on a lily pad.  They take pity, bring him home and nurture its needs.  As they feed the snake, it grows exponentially, demanding ever more resources and ever more space. It eats their game, causes social rifts and leads the community into a period of unparalleled trauma.  Finally, the snake swallows people whole.  They slash its belly and retrieve their family members. In the end, the snake dies, and the Haudenosaunee heal. What is the snake? The United States and Canada.

I told the instructor I did not know if I would be comfortable telling this story.  I said I aim to be a facilitator during Dakota Birthright, not a ‘teacher,’ that the true leaders of the voyage would be the elders.  As Professor and Keynote Speaker Ian Haney-Lopez urged, however, progressives should not simply aim to facilitate. We all need to overcome ‘colorblindness.’  We must discuss racism in open terms.  Then, we lead.  As a white citizen of the United States piloting a canoe trip of Dakota natives from Crow Creek to Santee Reservations, I will continue to revisit this principle

Reflections on Ways of Knowing and Being Wise

Imagine a calm voice guiding you through the next few minutes. Softly, the voice tells you:
Close your eyes. Take deep breaths and listen to your heart. Ask yourself, how does my skin feel? Am I warm or cool? Slowly inhale, then while exhaling, push any residual thoughts out of your realm. Blow them away.  Now imagine yourself surrounded by friends, by family, by comforts. Does this change your breathing? Your temperature?

After helping you imagine your casual, celebratory gathering, the voice alters the scene:
Now, imagine the faces around you change. They become something you are not – a different race, or nationality, or gender. Now you are an outsider.  Again, check your breath, your heart, your temperature. As you explore potential discussions with this new crowd, how do you react? Do you want to stay, or would you like to run?

The voice above was that of Tommy Woon, Dean of Multicultural Life at Macalester.  At a meeting for Live It recipients and other community members interested in reflecting on ways of knowing, Tommy led a session of somatic inquiry.  I found the first portion where I imagined my family and friends challenging.  Would everyone get along? Probably not. Would there be some undercurrents? Most likely.  Putting myself in a hypothetical picnic with all my favorite people seemed too far-fetched for me to fathom.  But I could quickly turn the proverbial table when he asked us to become “the other.” I have played this role many times – for example, at the United World College, and volunteering in Thailand where I was the only foreigner and the only English speaker in certain villages – and I will be this person again during Dakota Birthright.

I admit the envisioned situation where I became the minority was slightly tense. I don’t remember exactly, but I expect my breathing became shallower.  As I sat there, eyes closed, imagining this scene, I thought of what I wrote about in my last post – whether I would share the parable of the two-headed snake.  Again, I noticed I might not be at perfect ease imagining myself as an outsider taking a leadership (rather than facilitator’s) position in a community I don’t belong to. Nonetheless. I have enough intimacy with the circumstance that I know I won’t run. I’ll stay, start a discussion, and maybe even lead some somatic inquiry.